Massachusets environmental secretary raises concerns about path of proposed Tennessee Gas pipeline

Last modified: Friday, September 19, 2014

The state’s top environmental official has written to the federal government calling for careful review of Tennessee Gas Pipeline’s proposed Northeast Direct Natural Gas Pipeline, arguing the route is a highly sensitive environmental area.

A “preliminary, non-exhaustive” state review of the route shows that it would pass through about nine state wildlife management areas, four wildlife conservation easements, more than 19 miles of state-managed Conservation and Recreation as well as Fish and Game lands, plus lands in which the state holds an interest for conservation or agriculture, said Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Maeve Vallely Bartlett of the 127-mile route across the state, which includes Plainfield and nine Franklin County towns on its way from Wright, N.Y., to Dracut, north of Lowell.

In her letter to Federal Energy Regulatory Commission Secretary Kimberly Bose, Bartlett said the path “traverses some of the most critical habitats for approximately 15 percent of all state-listed ‘Endangered,’ ‘Threatened’ and ‘Special Concern’ species and has the potential to result in a significant level” of wildlife potentially being harmed by the project.

Bartlett illustrates the impacts by explaining, “Properties such as the Montague Plains (Wildlife Management Area) will see years of active habitat management for species recovery and restoration through prescribed fire and other means potentially disrupted as the current proposed pipeline goes through the very center of the” area.

There, and in other wildlife management areas, including Millers River, Tully Mountain, and the Little Tully Mountain wildlife conservation easements, “construction and maintenance of the pipeline has secondary impacts that can destroy important habitat, hamper ongoing wildlife restoration efforts and introduce a variety of management concerns.”

Bartlett’s letter describes the threat to Clarkdale Fruit Farms in West Deerfield as one of as many as 12 agricultural properties in which the state holds restrictions, and she added that the path passes through several parks and forests and crosses three long-distance hiking trails, including the Appalachian Trail.

“Each of these cases calls for a more detailed analysis of the extent of impact and to determine whether the route can be adjusted to avoid or at least minimize the impacts to these irreparable resources,” Bartlett wrote. “To date, the company has not proposed any route adjustments for any state properties.”

Even more significant, perhaps, Bartlett calls for a full analysis to assure that the project is needed in the state and the region. The company has said the project is projected to provide up to 2 billion cubic feet of natural gas a day, but “it is unclear whether Massachusetts needs additional infrastructure to meet demand, and if so, how much.”

She urges the company to share any data about regional demand for gas, including whether it perceives those needs to be for heat, electricity generation or both, and whether it would serve the needs of existing customers or new customers.

“Lastly, we are particularly concerned whether the Company is planning to serve customers outside the state or even New England,” Bartlett wrote, apparently in a reference to concerns that the state path may be being used as a conduit for Marcellus shale gas destined for export in the form of liquefied natural gas.

As a result of concerns raised this summer by opposition groups, state groups and residents, Bartlett’s office is having a study done to review a 2013 Black & Veatch analysis done for the New England State Committee on Electricity that has been used by the region’s governors to call for new pipeline infrastructure in the region.

That three-month study is scheduled to be launched Oct. 1.

While a variety of state and federal legislators and environmental organizations, including the Mount Grace Land Conservation Trust, have voiced concerns over the proposed pipeline path, the letter from Bartlett represents the state’s first official airing of specific concerns about the effect of the proposed Northeast Direct project path.

Local governments have no say over the envisioned $3 billion to $4 billion pipeline, and while the state Legislature may have some say over its route, it is the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission that licenses such interstate energy projects.

The proposed 300-mile route for the 36-inch diameter pipe would cut through Plainfield, Deerfield, Conway, Ashfield, Shelburne, Montague, Erving, Warwick, Orange and Northfield.


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